Just got back from the Joseph Cornell show at the Peabody/Essex museum which is worth visiting if you happen to be tooling around Salem, MA (there is also a fabulous origami exhibit in the kid’s section which you don’t need kids to enjoy). It reminded me of another fact about advertising/marketing culture that’s always surprised me, which is how much of the work seems to fall within a fairly narrow set of artistic styles and traditions.
Considering that we can theoretically draw inspiration from virtually any visual style over the last 1,000 years (okay, make it 3,000), it’s seems somewhat surprising that we turn repeatedly to a relatively narrow set of genres: sketch comedy for TV ads targeted at young males, sentimental realism for mom-targeted TV. Print ads that mostly looked they were all photographed by the same person trained in NYC in the mid-80’s. Fashion photography is thankfully a little adventurous, but most photography for mass marketing looks a lot alike.
The conservative pressure from clients is the main reason for so little variety. But even without that pressure, the world of creative production can be pretty insular, returning to the same sources of inspiration for stimulus. It’s one of the reasons we all get so delighted when a fresh style appears on the scene.
The award-winning and somewhat controversial Rozerem ads by C-K are a good example. I still remember the first time I spotted one in the food court of an office building in Chicago. I think it was the one with a teeter-totter in front of a bright green hedge with a man on one side and a dog on the other. My first thought was that it was a promotional poster for an art exhibition. My second was how great it was to see a campaign that was drawing directly from the surrealist tradition. (Though it was discussed at the AAAA's in the context of the Jay Chiat Awards, but we didn't get to hear much about the creative inspiration for the campaign.)
I’m always looking for new ways to import a broader array of visual styles into the practice, but it isn’t easy. The one notable success I can think of was when I was working with a great creative team at Mullen. We simultaneously struck on the idea of using a technique developed by a video artist Bill Viola for a cable-company pitch. We won the pitch. The work, however, never got produced.
I don’t have an easy answer, but when you see the playful, synthetic imaginative works of Joseph Cornell, it's hard not to want to broaden our range.
And one great potential source of new inspiration is Piers' PSFK conference in L.A on September 18th. Piers has a unique way of creating productive conversations from a variety of thinkers on culture and marketing. If you're nearby, I wouldn't miss it. I'm already strategically trying to set up a client meeting in the area.